Taking desirelessness () seriously

Asian Philosophy 15 (2):143 – 155 (2005)
There is a principle of charity within the Indian philosophical tradition that states that one is justified in reverting to a non-literal interpretation of a text only when a literal reading entails a clear contradiction. Most scholars have argued that a literal interpretation of the Bhagavadgtā's advice to act without desire ought to be abandoned for this reason, because it contradicts the obvious fact that desire is a necessary condition of action. In this paper two often cited arguments for the claim that desire is a necessary condition of action are considered and it is argued that neither is cogent. Consquently, a literal reading of the Bhagavadgtā does not result in a clear contradiction, and the literal reading cannot be abandoned based on the principle of charity. Further, I argue that aside from the unjustified assumption that the text must be in accord with a Humean theory of action, the textual evidence from the Gtā weighs heavily in favor of a literal reading of the advice to act without desire.
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